A 9-year-old Dalit boy from Rajasthan's Jalore district died at a hospital on August 13. His family alleges that he was assaulted by a teacher for drinking water from an earthen pot in his school.
The family said that he was beaten because the boy drank water from the pot meant for upper-caste people and that got the teacher, Chail Singh, furious.
The Rajasthan police arrested Singh, the accused teacher, on the day the child died and booked him for murder under relevant sections of law including the SC/ST (Prevention of Atrocities) Act. However, the police deny that "caste" is the reason for the death of the boy, as claimed by the family.
On July 20, Indra Meghwal, a student of standard 3 at Saraswati Vidya Mandir school in Jalore drank water from a pot kept on the school premises. He was then allegedly beaten up by the teacher Chail Singh, who is also the founder of the school.
Speaking to BOOM, Kishore Kumar Meghwal, the boy's uncle said that the 9-year-old had sustained injuries in his right ear and eye after being "beaten ruthlessly for drinking water from a reserved pot."
The boy, he said, went to his father's shop located some meters away from the school and narrated the incident. The boy also complained about the pain in his head and ear. "His ear was bleeding, he had injuries on his eye. He was unable to stand properly," he said. The family admitted him to a hospital in Jalore, Bhinmal, Udaipur. "After some medical examinations we were discharged from the hospital," the uncle said.
Later in the night, when the boy complained about the 'intolerable' pain, the family took him to the hospital again from where they were referred to the Ahmedabad hospital. The 9-year-old was hospitalised for more than two weeks and later went into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU). On the morning of August 13, the boy succumbed to his injuries.
"Killed Because Of His Caste"
Meghwal said that his nephew was "killed because he was a Dalit." He said that had his nephew been aware of how casteism works, he would know not to drink water from the pot meant for upper caste people. "If he knew what people think and how they treat people like us (Dalits) he might not have dared to drink from the pot," Meghwal said. "He went to drink water and did not know that upper-caste people don't like sharing anything with us. His innocence got him killed," he added.
A complaint letter submitted by Meghwal to the Saila police station by the boy's family on August 13 states that Singh beat up Indra while hurling casteist slurs at him. The letter adds that Indra had sustained injuries in his right ear and eye due to the assault by Singh.
"At the hospital, no one from the school authorities visited us. After days of struggle, we lost him. The casteism is so deep in our society that no one from the other caste took part in his last rites. People from our clan only came forward for the last rites," he said, adding that Indra was the youngest one in the family and was loved the most. "His face is still flashing before me," he said.
Meghwal added that ever since they registered the FIR, the family has been living in fear. The family is worried that people from the accused's community might attack them. "They offered us to settle the issue between the communities but we didn't agree," he told BOOM.
"His father is a poor man and doesn't even know what led to his son's death. He was a kid. What if he drank water from the pot, does that mean he deserved to be beaten up and killed?" asked Meghwal.
Investigation hints "no caste angle"
A senior police officer from the Rajasthan Police who is investigating the case, on the condition of anonymity, told BOOM that they have arrested the accused. However, he said that the primary investigation in the case has revealed that 'caste angle' is not the reason for the death of the boy.
"We are investigating the case, recording statements from school staff, locals and the medical team. So far, we haven't found any caste angle in the case that could have provoked Singh to beat the child. Also, staff members in the school who are from lower caste denied that Singh's action was based on the fact that he is a Dalit boy," the police official told BOOM.
The middle school is owned by Singh through a private trust and was started in 2005. Around 344 students are enrolled in the school, of whom 54 study under the The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act. Of the eight teaching staff in the school, three are from the Scheduled Castes, two from the Scheduled Tribes, one from the OBC category and two others from the upper caste which includes Singh.
The police officer did not comment on the post-mortem report that the police had received on Tuesday. He refused to comment on the cause of death from the report.
A New Political Crisis In Rajasthan
On August 13, Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot in a tweet said that the death of the boy due to the assault of a teacher is sad. He added that a case has been registered and a speedy investigation will be conducted to punish the accused.
"The matter has been taken under the case officer scheme for speedy investigation and punishment for the accused. It will be ensured that the victim's family gets justice at the earliest. The family members of the deceased will be given a relief amount of Rs 5 lakh from the Chief Minister's relief fund," he said.
Targeting the state government, the BJP had said the child's death is shameful. "When will Rahul Gandhi and Priyanka Gandhi Vadra suggest Gehlot to ensure justice for Dalits in Rajasthan," the state BJP had tweeted.
Besides attacks from the opposition BJP, the Ashok Gehlot government is also facing backlash from party members.
Supporting the family and lashing out at his own government, Congress MLA and Rajasthan Commission for Scheduled Caste Chairman Khiladi Lal Bairwa rubbished police's claim that they had found no caste angle so far.
As the issue snowballed, Congress MLA from Baran-Atru, Pana Chand Meghwal, on August 15 submitted his resignation to Assembly Speaker C P Joshi and Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot. He said that he was hurt at the constant atrocities being committed upon Dalits and the marginalised community even after 75 years of Independence.
To add to Gehlot's trouble, his former deputy Sachin Pilot who had led an unsuccessful rebellion against Gehlot two years ago, took a veiled dig to attack the government. "We have to put an end to incidents like Jalore. We have to assure the people of Dalit society that we stand with them," Pilot said. After meeting the family, Pilot said, "Only laws, speeches and actions are not enough. We will have to give them a strong message that we are with them."
Gehlot, on the other hand, accused some party leaders of instigating workers. "Some of our people instigate workers by telling them that they should be respected and honoured. It has become a jumla. Have you ever respected and honoured workers? Do you even know what honour and respect is?" the chief minister said in a veiled attack on Pilot without mentioning his name.
Pilot has often raised the issue of respect and honour among the Congress workers.
Meanwhile, on August 15, India's independence day, former Lok Sabha speaker and Union Minister Meira Kumar tweeted, "Hundred years ago my father Babu Jagjivan Ram was prohibited from drinking water in school from the pitcher meant for Sarvana Hindus. It was a miracle his life was saved." Kumar added that a 9-year-old Dalit boy has been killed for the same reason even after 75 years of independence. She said casteism remains the greatest enemy in Indian society.
Following this incident and after several complaints of atrocities and discrimination against Dalits in Rajasthan, the National Commission of Scheduled Castes (NCSC) have decided to conduct a two-day full-scale review of the implementation of central schemes, school enrolment ratio and dropout rate and violence against children on the basis of caste in the state.